It was set for the clash in Glasgow between 2nd seeds Scotland and 1st-seeded France. The French had arguably got off to the worse start, after that abysmal draw in Cyprus. Scotland had however also struggled in Cyprus, only securing the win with a last-minute decider. France had not played any qualifier since November, but had prepared themselves for this game through a friendly against the Republic of Ireland in February (1-1).
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Scotland team news
It's the standard 4-4-2 formation from Roxburgh, and with no real surprises in the team selection.
Ally McCoist had only just returned from injury, but was given the nod here. Scotland had begun the qualification with Brian McClair in tandem with Mo Johnston, but some average performances by the former meant that one of the striker positions seemed up for grabs.
The most troublesome position in the Scottish team was however the left-sided midfielder, where Roxburgh had tried out various players with no or little success. Young Ian Ferguson had however made a decent impression as an early sub against Cyprus, and it seemed right that he was given a place in the starting line-up here.
Another player returning from injury was Gary Gillespie, who had played just one qualifier so far, the opening qualifier against Norway. He had had a MoM performance there as a right full back, but as new man Gough had impressed in that position since, Gillespie could instead be slotted in as a central defender next to Alex McLeish.
France team news
Platini seems to favour a trio of central midfielders. This time his formation was a 5-3-2 WB, to the more attacking-minded 4-3-3 that he had used in Belgrade.
The team was more or less identical to that of the important friendly played against the Republic of Ireland in February (0-0), for which Platini had introduced a 5-3-2 WB formation.
The most eye-catching change here was the decision to field Thierry Laurey (Sochaux) in midfield, pushing Sauzée to the right wing-back position.
The midfield itself was a very inexperienced one. Before this game,
|1 Jim Leighton|
|2 Richard Gough|
|3 Maurice Malpas|
|4 Roy Aitken|
|5 Alex McLeish|
|6 Gary Gillespie|
|7 Steve Nicol|
|8 Paul McStay|
|9 Ally McCoist|
|10 Ian Ferguson|
|11 Mo Johnston|
|12 Andy Goram|
|13 David Speedie|
|16 Kevin Gallacher|
France (5–3–2 WB)
|1 Joël Bats|
|2 Manuel Amoros|
|3 Franck Silvestre|
|4 Luc Sonor|
|5 Patrick Battiston|
|6 Franck Sauzée|
|7 Jean-Philippe Durand|
|8 Thierry Laurey|
|9 Jean-Pierre Papin|
|10 Laurent Blanc|
|11 Daniel Xuereb|
|12 Sylvain Kastendeuch|
|13 Albert Cartier|
|16 Bruno Martini|
This was an encounter played between two different styles of football. Scotland with their direct approach, France with their will to play through the middle.
McCoist and Johnston
The key battle of the first half was contested between the two Scottish forwards and the two French man-markers: Ally McCoist vs Franck Silvestre and Mo Johnston vs Luc Sonor.
Roxburgh's tactical instruction here was to bypass the midfield area and play direct balls in the direction of McCoist and Johnston. Scotland would otherwise likely have found it difficult to make transitions from midfield to attack. The central midfield was congested (with France having a surplus player) and Steve Nicol probably their only hope in the wide positions.
And McCoist and Johnston were excellent focal points for Scotland's play here, helping the home side to retain a long spell of pressure from the word 'go'. They were dropping deep to collect the ball and worked tirelessly to free themselves from their man-markers.
In this way, it didn't matter if Scotland were in inferior numbers in central midfield or if there were questions about their quality in the wide departments. The direct approach was sufficient to establish play high up the field and make sure Scotland were on top of the game.
More important than the two forwards' ability to hold-up the ball, however, was the recklessness of Sonor and Silvestre. The two man-markers were persistently fouling McCoist and Johnston, as they continued diving into tackles.
They may have been instructed to tackle hard, but here it bordered on the ridiculous at times, as it almost appeared that they couldn't get into a tussle with McCoist or Johnston without committing a foul. The cost of this aggressive tackling was of course that Scotland were given a large number of free-kicks – which happen to be one of Scotland's main weapons.
Standard for Scotland in these situations was to hoist the ball in the direction of Richard Gough, who was emerging as somewhat of an expert in towering headers. His two goals against Cyprus last month had of course both been at set-pieces. The number of free-kicks ensured that Scotland could move up players and establish a presence in the final third, while France struggled to find their own tempo on the ball.
And not unsurprisingly, it was through a set-piece that Scotland scored the opening goal.
(This time it was however not a free-kick prompted by a foul on McCoist or Johnston, but a minor offence committed by Xuereb on Gillespie just beyond the midway line.)
Gough couldn't connect with this free-kick, but McCoist picked up the loose ball and fired a tame shot which by chance proved to be an excellent pass to Mo Johnston who found himself one on one with the French goalkeeper. Johnston had been left unattended in the mélée, and calmly placed his shot. 1-0. It wasn't the prettiest goal, but France finally crumbled to the pressure they had seen themselves under since the start of the game.
This was already Johnstons 4th goal of the Italia'90 campaign, making him the top goalscorer of the UEFA qualification zone so far.
France play through the middle
As against Yugoslavia away in November, France were playing with three central midfielders, Platini wanting to dominate play in midfield and play through the middle.
In theory, Platini had a strong central line here that was designed to transit the ball from defence to attack, with Battiston linking defence and midfield, Xuereb connecting midfield and attack. The idea was for these players to combine their way forward by overloading Scotland in the middle.
The big question here was the unproven midfield trio, which had almost no experience at this level. The inexperience did perhaps also show, as it took considerable time before France managed to establish any play in the middle, taking advantage of their 3 v 2 in this section of the pitch. They seemed intimidated by Scotland's high tempo on the ball, unable to find any tempo for themselves.
Gradually, however, and more and more so after going a goal down, the French managed to impose themselves by taking advantage of their strong central spine. Battiston played some incisive forward passes, Xuereb did well to lay the ball off and the three central midfielders at times ran over the Scottish midfield. Some of the best attacking moves in this game were produced by France, although they rarely managed to get behind the Scottish defence.
Wing-backs giving no support
Wing-backs are usually vital in a 5-3-2 WB system, but the attacking contributions from Amoros and Sauzée in this game were few and meagre.
Amoros did manage to
did manage to get into the Scottish half. True to his playing style, he battled his way forward with the ball at feet (mirroring his opponent Nicol), but he rarely knew what to do with the ball once high up the pitch. Sauzée, moreover, appeared to be cautious because of (the anonymous) Ian Ferguson.
In particular the use of Sauzée was a disappointment from this perspective. A midfielder by profession, Sauzée had nothing to offer going forward on the night – in distinct contrast with the qualifier in Belgrade, where he made some intelligent running and was one of France's best players.
The lack of support from the wing-backs was also in stark contrast to the game in Belgrade, where the 4-3-3 formation made France a real menace in the wide areas throughout the game. Durand made a couple of clever runs to the left, while more lateral movement probably was expected from Xuereb.
2-0 (54'): Johnston again!
Scotland added to their lead x minutes into the second half, and again it was Mo Johnston with the goal for the home side – his 5th in the qualification so far.
Again not very pretty, but it's efficient football from the Scots: The attack had only been instigated by a pass simply being hoisted forward from Richard Gough from the deep of his right back position. Luc Sonor's clumsy attempt to control the loose ball made him a prey for the tireless and attentive McCoist, who rewon possession near the byline (Goal: 7'52.) McCoist set up Nicol to swing in a beautiful cross aimed in the space between Bats and the defence, which Johnston was the first to connect to. Bats first parried Johnston's header, but then fumbled the ball over the goal line. 2-0.
The Scottish left midfielder issue: Strachan on for ineffectual Ferguson
Roxburgh made a change shortly after the goal, replacing youngster Ian Ferguson with Gordon Strachan (10:39). The substitution was probably prompted by a desire to shore up things, with the vastly experienced Strachan coming on for the so far mediocre Ferguson.
The substitution meant that Strachan took his usual position to the wide right, prompting a switch for Steve Nicol from right to left.
Ian Ferguson is not a natural wide-player, and he did seem to be a bit lost for ideas when advancing down the left flank with the ball at feet.
Nicol, however, was thriving. It is not that Nicol is the most skilled wide-player in Europe. He does however possess the tenacity and work rate to make the most out of whatever position he is asked to play in. Beside McCoist and Johnston, the other key player in Scotland's team was Steve Nicol.
No comeback from France
The 2-0 goal prompted Platini to bring on Paille, who replaced Durand. (13:25)
Neither this replacement entailed any tactical changes, although it was unusual to see Paille – normally a forward – in a midfield capacity, as he joined Blanc and Laurey in the midfield trio.
The game petered out on 2-0, as France never managed to stage a comeback. There was the occasional chance for the visitors to find a reducer, but they were ultimately dented by Jim Leighton, who enjoyed a brilliant match here – probably one of his best for Scotland.
Scotland were on top from the very start of this game. Much of their success can be ascribed to the movement and work-rate of McCoist and Johnston, who were so valuable for them here in
While both McStay and Nicol have abilities that stand out,
The second goal epitomised this, with McCoist's aggression and Nicol's cross the attacking move that allowed Johnston to head the ball home. A set-piece was perhaps necessary, though, for Scotland to score the first goal.
France were a disappointment here. They had looked better in Belgrade. Too much was put on the young shoulders of the three central midfielders. Sauzée wasn't used to his best purposes, and Xuereb had a very
1 Leighton 6.6
A very reliable figure here for Scotland. Makes a few good saves, and shows himself very good at handling the ball on more than one occasion. Keeps Scotland in the game.
2 Gough 4.8
As always a danger man at set pieces for Scotland, and the perennial aim in these situations.
3 Malpas 5.0
4 Aitken 4.4
5 McLeish 4.7
6 Gillespie 6.5
7 Nicol 5.6
8 McStay 5.1
9 Johnston 6.0
10 Ferguson 3.9
Better when involving himself in the middle.
11 McCoist 6.4
1 Bats 3.8
2 Amoros 4.6
3 Silvestre 4.0
4 Sonor 3.4
5 Battiston 4.8
6 Sauzée 3.9
7 Durand 4.5
8 Laurey 4.7
9 Papin 4.7
10 Blanc 4.8
11 Xuereb 4.0